Monday, June 30, 2008

Beatles 17: Let It Be

Released in conjunction with the film and after Paul had told the world he’d left the band (the last Beatle to actually leave but the first to mention it to the press), Let It Be is something of a letdown after the majesty of Abbey Road. The novelty of an album of new songs recorded “live” doesn’t always light a fire under these songs, and the result is less a grand finale than a postscript to such an amazing run. Still, with few exceptions, the performances and mixes here are superior to any other attempt at the same songs, so it is what it is.
After John’s weird announcement about Charles Hawtrey and deaf-aids, “Two Of Us” gallops by invitingly. Then it’s up to the roof for “Dig A Pony”, edited for some reason to exclude the “all I want is you” intro you hear in the film. “Across The Universe”, from two years earlier, finally appears, covered in Spectorian syrup. “I Me Mine” rocks just fine without John, and “Let It Be” delivers the grandeur Paul intended. “I’ve Got A Feeling” and “One After 909” provide more rooftop excitement, but it’s immediately derailed by the utter horror of “The Long And Winding Road”. “For You Blue” and a questionable mix of “Get Back” bring the proceedings to an uneasy close.
There were genuine creative sparks to be found during the month of filming and recording that went into this album—a full sixteen months before its eventual release—but unfortunately, we might have been better off had we not been promised so much. (It also didn’t help that John’s early 1970 single, the classic “Instant Karma!”, had been recorded and released with the same speed and excitement Paul had intended for what turned into Let It Be.)
The initial UK album package included a book of grainy photos and obtuse text in a flimsy case; it was reissued without these in late 1970 mirroring the US gatefold and red apple label. The LP was later widely counterfeited, so many of the copies found in bargain bins in the late ‘70s may not be authentic. (It was reissued on Capitol in the early ‘80s without the gatefold sleeve, but reproduced the photos on the inner sleeve and even included a large poster of the front cover, which was nice of them.)

Some 33 years later Paul spearheaded the release of Let It Be…Naked, a strangely timed attempt to present another perspective on the album. The songs were remixed—some from alternate takes—for a comparatively clean sound; all of the audio-verité comments that were scattered throughout the original were also removed. (The so-called “fly on the wall” bonus CD contains 21 minutes of dialogue and snippets from the first two weeks of the project.) “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae” were cut in favor of “Don’t Let Me Down”, but the highlight is arguably a completely new mix of “Across The Universe” that builds gently from John’s unplugged opening.
The new version did provide a fresh look at the songs and the sessions, but was no replacement for what was already set in stone. To get a truer, more complete picture of the album’s evolution, you’d still need the original LP as released in 1970 and available on CD, as well as Anthology 3 and some other recordings not available at your local chain, namely the complete rooftop performance and the two proposed Get Back album sequences prepared by original producer Glyn Johns in May 1969 and January 1970. From there you could compile your own ideal sequence, and just like a single-disc White Album, good luck coming up with something that will please everyone.

Speaking of which, once Apple started issuing 50th anniversary expansions of the band’s albums, any excitement over the inclusion of “new” music was always tempered by what was missing. Considering how much of the Let It Be material had been bootlegged over the decades, unless a package containing every recorded moment was made available, such an installment would be underwhelming. The simpler two-CD expansion in what they called the Special Edition contained 14 tracks from the larger set, which ran to five CDs plus a Blu-ray (with a book, of course). In addition to a new mix of the album, two discs covered various outtakes and jams (which could have easily fit one disc), a fourth disc contained Glyn Johns’ first assembly of the Get Back album, and a fifth contained a whopping four songs (which could have easily been added to Disc 4, leaving Disc 5 open for, say, the complete rooftop performance.)
Mostly, the package was also designed to coincide with Peter Jackson’s reevaluation of the sessions, which purported to shine a light on the more fun aspects of the sessions, despite what the original Let It Be film and subsequent interviews would have us believe. And for the most part, we do experience the joy of performances and discovery. (A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, after all.) The “rehearsals” disc includes items recorded early on at the film studio, including attempts at later solo tracks “All Things Must Pass” and “Gimme Some Truth”, as well as a few songs that would make it to Abbey Road. There’s even a charming performance by Billy Preston on “Without A Song”. There is some overlap with Anthology 3, which was already 25 years old when this set came out, as well as some of the snippets on the “fly on the wall” disc from Naked, but absolutely new is the peek at “Wake Up Little Susie” that prefaced one of the 1970 takes of “I Me Mine”.
The remix is striking in places, such as “Across The Universe”, which keeps the Spector choir but brings out elements previously hidden, like the wah-wah guitars. Similarly, “The Long And Winding Road” is given more room to breathe, but it still has too much goop. Those who’d never heard any bootlegs may be intrigued by the Glyn Johns sequence, given that many of the takes are different from those on the final album. Plus, the packaging includes the original cover art, as well as Tony Barrow’s planned liner notes for the first time ever.

The Beatles Let It Be (1970)—
2021 Deluxe Edition: same as 1970, plus 14 extra tracks (Super Deluxe edition adds another 31 tracks plus Blu-ray)
The Beatles Let It Be…Naked (2003)—

4 comments:

  1. I stumbled upon your blog while looking for an mp3 of George Harrison's 1988 Rockline interview. I must say reading your Beatles reviews has been a great treat! I first came upon your review of my favorite Harrison album (1979's "George Harrison"). When I realized you were reviewing the albums in order, I decided to start at the beginning. Your review of the US versions of the Beatles earlier albums took me back to my childhood in the 70s when I was devouring all things Beatles.

    I'm looking forward to reading your reviews of their solo work. With "Let It Be" could you tell us what your ideal sequence for the album would be?

    Geoff

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for the note, Geoff! Please keep reading; hopefully there will be something else to entertain you once we're through with the Beatles.

    As for my version of Let It Be, here's what I've been thinking since the Naked album came out:

    Two Of Us (LIB with John’s intro)
    Dig A Pony (unedited from rooftop)
    Across The Universe (any version will do, but the LIBN one is especially nice)
    I Me Mine (A3, unedited)
    Dig It (LIB)
    Let It Be (LIB with John’s "Dig It" intro)
    Maggie Mae (LIB)
    Don’t Let Me Down (rooftop, with George’s backing vocals and John’s “bleep bloochie goo” flub)
    I’ve Got A Feeling (LIB)
    One After 909 (LIB with “Danny Boy” ending)
    The Long And Winding Road (A3)
    For You Blue (LIBN, since it’s mixed to favor George)
    Get Back (single version, with LIB ending, plus film ending with the ho-hos)

    Plus, I’d’ve called it Get Back, and utilized the original cover idea. But then, I wasn’t asked.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Am I the only person in the entire world who prefers the Phil exSpectorated version of The Long and Winding Road to the stripped-back version?

    ReplyDelete